The Pageant of America: A Pictorial History of the United States - Vol. 1

By Clark Wissler; Constance Lindsay Skinner et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
THE QUAKER EXPERIMENT

FOR two generations and probably more, the men of William Penn's family had followed the sea; and part of their legacy to him was that love of freedom, that vigor, and that fearlessness in the presence of sudden peril or foe which are the gift of the sea to its sons. William's grandfather, Giles Penn, a merchant captain of Bristol, had a brush or two with French and Spanish ships and with the pirate fleets of the Levant. His father, William Penn, was a naval captain at twenty-one and became a vice-admiral at twenty-three. He won distinction in the first Dutch war and in the capture of Jamaica from the Spanish. In 1653, as admiral and general under CromwelL, he drew up the first code of tactics for the navy, which was to guide English sea fighters for generations after him. Admiral Penn hoped, by his service at sea, to win an earldom, that he might bequeath it to his son, for he wished to see that handsome lad living the life which he imagined he would have preferred for himself. He took William to sea for a week or so during one engagement so that the boy might prove his manliness under the eyes of the Duke of York. This end accomplished, he sent him swiftly home. In like manner he allowed his son a taste of battle in Ireland, and then refused the youth his choice of a military career. Old William would do the rough work; young William must be the finest puppet in England.

So young William, spurred by his heritage of vigor and courage and love of freedom, went adventuring in the only realm which his father could not close to him -- the intellectual and spiritual domain. At Oxford, he took his stand with the liberals against ecclesiastical domination. He listened to the expositions of that remarkable Quaker, Thomas Loe; and in the Quaker concept of brotherhood and simple godliness William Penn found an ideal, and in the persecutions heaped upon a gentle people a battle-ground. He was imprisoned several times in England for his faith. He made a tour through Germany, where he preached the Quaker doctrine at the risk of his life. He found time to embody his ideas in several works on religion and on constitutional liberty. In the streets, and in prison, he proclaimed the rights of Englishmen. His profound study of English law and precedent was later reflected in the "frame of government" which he drew up for his colony and which insured to the colonists more liberty than was enjoyed at that time in England or in any other colony.

His father, who had driven him from home because of his religion, called him to his death-bed. "Let nothing in the world tempt you to wrong your conscience," he whispered; and one of his last acts was to send a message to the King's brother, the Duke of York, begging him, in memory of an old sea-dog's services, to protect William from persecution. He left his son a debt of £16,000 to collect from Charles II. The King had perhaps had a degree of real affection for the admiral, for he proved scrupulous about this debt. But as the King was poor in money and rich only in distant lands, he bestowed upon old Penn's son the region that we know as Pennsylvania.

-246-

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